Sunday, December 23, 2018

Same Boob, Different Story

Oh, a simple complication
Miscommunications lead to fall out
So many things that I wish I knew
So many walls up I can't break through

Now I'm standing alone in a crowded room
And we're not speaking 
And I'm dying to know
Am I killing you? Or are you killing me? Yeah
I don't know what to say since the twist of fate
When it all broke down and the story of us
Looks a lot like a tragedy now

It turns out that I can write Taylor Swift parodies about bikes, trails, dudes, races, and now, even my own body parts. I debated on even sharing the news about my breast surgery in November because it was so minor, and it turns out that it was basically a false alarm. There was a lot of miscommunication when my old doctor retired last December, and when I finally went to see his replacement a couple of months later than I was supposed to, she immediately wanted to do surgery based some year-old biopsy results that I’d been told were fine during my last conversation with my old doctor. I just sort of went along with it, she did the surgery, and they found nothing but healthy tissue and an old biopsy clip. At least I got some extra days off work, I guess.

This story wouldn’t even warrant telling except that a few days after the surgery I noticed a clearly discernible pea-size mass in my left breast which is just generally lumpy now due to all the scar tissue from the last lumpectomy and a couple of other subsequent needle biopsies. It’s had a rough couple of years. Unfortunately, this was something distinct from the normal generally lumpy feeling, and the concerning part was that it seemed to have suddenly popped up out of nowhere.

I went through yet another round of the mammogram, ultrasound, MRI, and needle biopsy, although the radiologist who did the biopsy wasn’t completely convinced that it wasn’t just a sebaceous cyst that she was going to inflame by poking at it. Everything seemed so routine that I didn’t even have a follow-up appointment with my surgeon, so when she called me on Wednesday morning to say I needed to make an appointment to get my pathology results, I knew it was a bad sign. However, I was expecting, “You need to have another lumpectomy” bad. Frank offered to come with me, but I knew I had to rush back to State College for a dentist appointment after and I really only expected the whole thing to take 15 minutes.

Unfortunately, she told me that the latest biopsy was DCIS, which I had a couple of years ago. At the time I opted to forgo the recommended radiation, because there was a good chance that the surgery had gotten rid of it, and it wouldn’t come back. Now that it did, she was encouraging me to get a mastectomy on the left side, or at the very least, get another lumpectomy plus radiation this time.

The thing about DCIS is that while it is technically cancer, it is non-invasive, and it there’s still some debate as to the general likelihood that it will ever be. Of course, I’m glad to not have “real cancer”. I don’t have to have chemo, and if I give in and consent to the mastectomy, no radiation. If I give in now, I can get a high-quality implant and keep my real nipple, albeit likely cold and numb for the rest of my life. I’m afraid of the recovery time and its effect on my next race season, but realistically it’s comparable to the collar bone break from which the bike injury gods have somehow spared me for 13 years, so maybe I’m just due for an ill-timed hiatus. What I can’t shake is the feeling of dread when I imagine spending the rest of my life looking down at the aesthetically acceptable but basically dead mass stuck to my chest and wondering if it was worth it.

“Cancer has a language problem--not just in the way we speak about it, as a war that drafts soldiers who never signed up for it, who do battle and win, or do battle and lose. There's also the problem of the word itself. A 57-year-old woman with low-grade DCIS that will almost certainly never become invasive hears the same word as the 34-year-old woman who has metastatic malignancies that will kill her. That's confusing to patients conditioned to treat every cancer diagnosis as an emergency, in a world that still reacts to cancer as though it's the beginning of the end and in a culture where we don't talk about death until we have to.” – Time Magazine Article

My biggest problem in relation to the quote above is that I am not a 57-year-old woman with DCIS; I am a 38-year-old woman with DCIS, so doctors don’t know WTF to do with me. Friends and acquaintances don’t know what do with me, because DCIS doesn’t fit into the “breast cancer” narrative in anyone’s head. For something that accounts for 25% of breast cancer diagnosis, I’ve yet to hear about anyone else with a story similar to mine (age, diagnosis, etc.), so it’s hard to know where to look for guidance. I’ve come across a handful stories of 30-something-year-old otherwise healthy cyclists who suddenly discover invasive cancer, accept their mastectomies like champs, and altogether embrace the “brave survivor” story that we love to hear about in others while we not-so-secretly fear it for ourselves.

I can’t see myself as a “brave survivor” right now, because I’m not even sure what it is that I’m supposed to be surviving. My life isn’t in danger right now; my future quality of life is, and all of the options seem equally bad in their own way. I realize that regardless of the diagnosis; invasive cancer, recurring DCIS, or BRCA positive; everyone who faces it probably goes through a similar stage of, “Why is this happening to me? I want this to not be happening to me.” Then you’re supposed to be brave and do what you have to do. People expect it. Except they aren’t the ones that have to live with it. That’s the part they never tell you.

I think this is the part of the post where I’m supposed to end on a positive note, but I’m nowhere near there yet. I’m still struggling to write my own story, which hopefully will be useful to someone else later. I think it’s important share a “cancer” narrative that doesn’t fit the mold, but that is brutal its own lonely way.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Thank You, Next

As you may have noticed, I really like writing song parodies. It's just something that comes naturally to me, and I've done it since I was a little kid. At that time, the subject matter was usually my show chickens (yes, show chickens). My brain basically just wants to align one thing with a seemingly unrelated thing and figure out what lessons can come from it. Too bad it took until my 30's to realize that song parodies and business analysis are basically the same skillset.

For months I've been wanting to write a parody of Taylor's Swift's "Fifteen" called "Cat 3" as a retrospective on how my cycling career has involved over the last 13 years. That's right, my bike racing history has become an angsty teenage in and of itself. 

The problem is that I just can't make the song work, because there aren't enough verses to cover my evolution. It's starts off well enough at my first XC race as what is now Cat 3 in mountain biking, although it was just called "Beginner" back then. When I try to skip forward getting to my Cat 3 upgrade in cyclocross, it gets off topic fast. 

You like some pics from a red-head named @lwkwafi
And soon enough you're Instafriends
Laughing at the shiny dudes
Who they think they're so cool
And you're happy that he goes to the gym

I guess it realistically reflects what was important to me as a new Cat 3 cyclocross racer and maybe why I never made it to Cat 2.

Then I heard Ariana Grande's "Thank You, Next", and it seemed very on point with my recent circumstances. My bike stable has been through a lot turnover in the last couple of years as I've tried to figure out this whole enduro life. In 2016, I was lucky enough to get a promotion at my job that gave me a level of financial stability that I'd never had before right at the same time that I began to expand my repertoire of mountain bike challenges beyond simple trail riding and XC racing. To complicate matters more, I think that the evolution of mountain bikes has sped up a lot in the last few years, making it harder to settle down. In the past few months, I've had a short-lived relationship with a downhill bike, sold off two extremely nice bikes that I loved but simply didn't ride enough anymore, and completed the build of a Juliana Strega with 180mm fork because I finally justified having a "park bike" to myself. 

So what better way to look back on my cycling career than through the bikes that have taught me important life lessons along the way? 

Thought I'd send it on Rhaegal
But he wasn't a match

And it makes me a bit sad

Then I went full enduro
And for Brienne, I'm so thankful

Wish I coulda kept Jaime
'Cause she was an angel

One taught me love
One taught me patience
And one taught me pain
Now, I'm so amazing
I've loved and I've lost
But that's not what I see
So, look what I got
Look what you taught me
And for that, I say

Thank you, next 
Thank you, next 
Thank you, next
I'm so forkin’ grateful for my ex (bikes)

I've still got some good friends
I ain't worried 'bout nothin'

Plus, I've got someone else
To get better at jumpin'

I know they say I move on too fast
But this one gon' last

'Cause her name is Maggy
And I'm so good with that 

She taught me love

He taught me patience

How she handles pain 
That shit's amazing 

I've loved and I've lost 
But that's not what I see
'Cause look what I've found 
Ain't no need for searching, and for that, I say

Thank you, next
Thank you, next 
Thank you, next 
I'm so forkin’ grateful for my ex (bikes)

One day I'll hit the some big drop
Without so much trauma

My 90 mil Anthem
Couldn't imagine that drama

Wanna send it big real bad
Gon' make that shit last
God forbid something happens
Least it's not road rash 

I've got so much love 
Got so much patience
I've learned from the pain 
I turned out amazing 
I've loved and I've lost 
But that's not what I see 
'Cause look what I've found
Ain't no need for searching
And for that, I'll say

Thank you, next 
Thank you, next 
Thank you, next
I'm so forkin’ grateful for my ex (bikes)

I was able to find pictures of all but two very early road bikes and my first 'cross bike before he was transitioned to a commuter. It funny how much better the photo quality gets over time.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Same Story, Different Boob

Social media memories and boobs, together in one photo.

I am currently on an 869 day streak with the Timehop app. Even if it is not something you use, you have likely seen people share their old photos from X years ago today, even before Facebook began the daily resurrection of old memories. I understand how gamification works, but I still need that damned dinosaur to congratulate me on visiting the spirit of social media past each morning. Sometimes it turns up cute old photos of Mushu or reminds me how much I used to love wearing skinsuits in the mud in the fall, but a lot of the time it just makes me roll my eyes at the inane stuff I used to tweet when I used Twitter for more than just pushing out a link to blog posts when they are complete.

My use of social media has changed a lot in the last few years. I was really into Twitter during the height of my paleo phase, so I followed a bunch of paleo personalities (yeah, that was a thing) and tweeted a bunch about organ meats. Looking at my Facebook feed even now, the majority of the people are from my OVCX days. Facebook was super fun back then, when Monday morning was dedicated to searching to through Kent Baumgardt’s albums and looking for a new tongue-free photo to become our profile picture. It's a little weird now to watch how everyone has moved on with their lives, and yet the algorithms still want to keep me updated on a world in which I don't exist anymore. I even recently gave up on trying to keep up with everything in my Instagram feed when spotty cell service for most of our August bike part trip kept me from checking it regularly, and then I realized that I was happier that way. I mean, I got a husband out of that deal, so what more do I really want at this point?

The reason I think of this is that I recently found out that I have to have surgery on my right breast similar to what I had a couple of years ago on the left. Same story, different boob. For as much of an over-sharer as I have been in the past and sometimes still am, I’m struggling with who tell and how.

On one hand, it shouldn’t be that big of a deal. Last time, the pain was super minor, and the recovery was super easy, so I don't expect there to be any big interruption in my life that I need to explain to anyone. I’ll miss one day of work, and my boss knows why, but otherwise, it feels almost too trivial to share with my coworkers. Having been through this once, I’m not scared of the surgery, and even if this one turns out to be DCIS again, I understand my options. I struggled through the whole radiation decision last time, but now I have enough information to make a pretty easy go/no go decision this time, if I need to.

At the same time, it feels weird not telling people. Despite it logically not being a big deal, there is still an odd emotional weight to it. So far I’ve told Frank, my mom, my boss, and the one friend with whom I discussed my surgery the most the last time around. Otherwise, I guess I’m struggling with passing that weight on to others when it doesn’t feel quite worthy.

So instead I’m placing this weight onto my oldest form of social media, the place I go to overshare without fully forcing it in the faces of the unwilling. Plus, it’s a long, cold stretch until my next bike race, so I might as well used what material I have. I will point out, however, that so far in my bike racing career, every time I’d surgery in the off-season, I’ve won a series the follow year. So watch this space for podium pics in about six months…

Monday, October 15, 2018

Raven Enduro: Sorry Not Sorry

Now payback is a bad bitch
And baby, I'm the baddest
You forkin' with a savage
Can't have this, can't have this (ah)
And it'd be nice of me to take it easy on ya, but nah

Baby, I'm sorry (I'm not sorry)
Baby, I'm sorry (I'm not sorry)
Being so bad got me feelin' so good
Showing you up like I knew that I would

Why look at ugly results when you can look at cute doggos?

While my brain scrolled through plenty of depressing lyrics that could have been applied to this year’s Raven Enduro post, instead I gravitated towards the ones that are usually reserved for my internal monologue when I take back a QOM. That’s mostly because I don’t want to waste any more time feeling bad about that race than I already have.

What was always a pretty physically difficult race was made even more difficult, although admittedly a better quality race, by the addition of a fourth stage on the SMCC property, for a total of six stages. The stats of ~15 miles and ~2800 feet of climbing actually sound pretty reasonable in regard to most of my training rides, but the rub is that this included very little gravel road. Most of the climbing took place on steep, often rocky, double or singletrack that was soft and lacking traction, so it felt roughly twice as hard as the equivalent amount of climbing on gravel roads would be.

As I have mentioned a few times already, I was never great physical shape at any point this year, and that has only been made worse since it got too dark to mountain bike after work. Simply completing the race was a gargantuan physical effort for me to the point that, for the last two stages, I was basically just falling all over myself because I was too tired make my bike do the things that I needed to do. Additionally, I had issues with numb hands, my dropper post not working correctly, and the well-worn cleats on my shoes unclipping with the slightest of bumps. Basically nothing worked in my favor yesterday, and I ended up in last place by what I might be tempted to call an unacceptable margin. The problem with that would be that the margin was what it was, so it would be futile not to accept it.

For the last two years, the Raven Enduro has left me ending the season feeling like garbage regarding my abilities as an enduro racer. While the garbage feeling did eventually open the door for valuable insights that helped me get better the following season, this year I’m wondering if I can’t just skip the garbage feeling and move on to the part where I get better next season. Maybe it’s Syd Schulz’ blog posts continuing to hold up a crystal clear mirror for self-reflection or the 2905 minutes that I’ve meditated since the last Raven Enduro, but I’ve finally come to the realization that hating where you are now doesn’t help you get where you want to be any faster, at least not in any meaningful or sustainable way. Even more disappointing, hating people who are seemingly getting there faster than you also doesn’t help.

So, sorry, I’m not sorry about my race yesterday. I’m well aware of what I need to do to be better next season, so I’m going to worry about that now.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Days of Thunder

This past weekend Frank and I returned to Thunder Mountain after visiting it on the final day of our bike park trip in August. Despite the fact that it rained all day when we were there the first time, it was still our favorite park of the trip and we wanted to go back in the hope of better weather. We got our wish, as we had two days of 65 degrees and mostly sunny riding.

Because it was raining the first time we visited Thunder, the black trails seemed extremely difficult, and we didn’t even mess with the double blacks. There are two top-to-bottom single-black runs and a few different black segments that you can link up between blue trails. When we were there in August, we did a single-black trail called Winetree that was incredibly hard under those conditions. It was still incredibly hard under the only slightly damp conditions this weekend. A couple of the shorter black trails, Behind the Shack and Thunder Cliffs, proved to be of similar difficulty even without the rain.

However, we found Old Blend and Billy Badger to be much easier than our last visit, so much so that we ended up doing three laps of Billy Badger on the first day. As I described it to Frank, the trail rides the perfect line where I can clean everything, but it’s hard enough that I feel cool doing it. We stayed so long the first day that we got the perfect opportunity to sweep Hawleywood, the double-black jump trail as the park was shutting down. We knew everything on the trail was rollable but well beyond our jumping capabilities, so it was nice to be able to just roll through and look at everything without worrying about being in the way of more proficient jumpers.

Despite being a bit intimidated by Winetree on the first day, I still wanted to check Juggernaut, the other top-to-bottom single-black, on the second day. It turned out to be much more manageable than Winetree, being more just steep instead of filled with semi-treacherous rock and roots features. This gave us the confidence to try The Schist, which is the downhill race trail. The Schist is actually just steep, which we are definitely cool with after all of our Rothrock riding, so it was actually easier to us than Winetree or Juggernaut, despite its double-black rating. Since that went well, we went ahead and did the other double-black, Too Easy, which basically just runs straight down the mountain parallel to the lift. I think it’s supposed to be the “official” hardest trail in the park, and it does not seem to get ridden a whole lot. We admittedly walked several sections that were extremely steep and loose, but I still think it is easier than Winetree. Can you tell that I’m still afraid of Winetree?

After two days riding there, I still have to say that Thunder Mountain is my favorite bike park. I laughed a bit on the way home because I was so excited to have ridden “all” of the trails this trip, but then I realized that we technically haven’t, because we’ve never actually done the green trail the whole way from the top to the bottom. Double-blacks on trail bikes and no greens - that’s just how we roll.

Now that we’ve scratched the Thunder Mountain itch, I think we might be done with bike parks for the year. We could still try to sneak in some laps the last couple of weekends of October, and technically, Thunder is open all the way up to my birthday, November 12, if we were up for another six-hour trip.  We’ve travelled a ton this season, though, and I think I’m ready to put my FOMO on shelf for a few months and enjoy staying in State College with my cats and my own bed. Last year we did 7 bike park days across 3 different parks, as well as 8 races. This year we jumped up to 17 bike park days across 10 different parks, as well as 8 races, and we never even made it to Bryce and Massanutten. That’s a lot of early mornings, strange beds, hours in the car, and asking other people had to feed our cats. It was super fun, and we learned a lot, but it was also pretty tiring.

We started easing into the off-season shortly after the WV Enduro finale in Snowshoe, since it starts getting too dark for mid-week mountain biking in September. We replaced those rides by starting the MTB Strong training plan in hopes becoming fitter, better athletes next season, although our compliance has so far has left a bit to be desired. We still have one race left, which is next weekend, but since it’s in State College, it won’t require the amount of logistical effort that most races do. Then it won’t be long before the 2019 race schedules start to be posted, and I can start thinking of new and exciting ways to exhaust myself next season!

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Snowshoe Enduro: Party Laps

I want to get college girl drunk tonight
No morning fears, no mountains to climb

Maybe it's the crazy that I'd miss
It won't get better than this

I like the way your brain works, I like the way you try
To run with the wolf pack when your legs are tired

Even though I’ve recognized the folly in trying to write blog posts about races before they happen, when I heard this song last week, I couldn’t help but imagine it would be a good lead-in for today’s post. Besides, it wasn’t so much a premonition of the race itself, but how I expected that I would feel afterward.

Going to into this weekend’s WV Enduro Series finale in Snowshoe felt like an endcap to the downward spiral that began at nationals there in July. Not that I regret taking a five-day bike park trip in the interim, but my fitness is definitely waning, I’m really burned out from travelling so much in the last couple of months, and I’m feeling very chubby from continued vacation-mode eating. In short, I wasn’t feeling very motivated to race or feeling very confident in my ability to race well, especially with the bad memories of nationals still hanging over Snowshoe for me. Still, we made plans to race at Snowshoe and to stay through Monday for “party laps”, since there were still quite a few trails we didn’t get to ride when we visited in May.

All that being said, I went into the race with my best “give a shit” effort, and it kinda sorta worked.

The first stage of the race was Bailout, which was one of the more frustrating stages of nationals. It’s about a mile long, and doesn’t really feel downhill most of the time. It was a complete sludgefest at last year’s WV finale, but was merely slimy at nationals and this weekend. It’s just a very, very technical trail with lots of slick rocks and roots, as well as a lot of tight corners that don’t allow you to see what’s coming up next.

When I began my race run, I reminded myself to stay really, really focused but not necessarily to try to go hard. I stayed on my bike the longest that I ever have on a run of Bailout, which was about halfway into the big, perpetually muddy rock garden about a third of the way through. Although at times it felt slow, I just kept reminding myself that I was doing the best on Bailout that I ever had. When I did have to get off, I would run, but as soon as I was on again, I would get back into steady piecing together of the technical bits. Despite the fact that Bailout is never pretty, having made a big improvement on it helped motivate me for the rest of the race.

As the day wore on, I just kept focusing on staying on my bike and making as few mistakes as possible, which in itself is always a challenge at Snowshoe. When it was over, I found that I had PR’d every single Strava segment on the course, except for the transfer to the first stage, which I had ridden intentionally slow. Although I was still last place by 4.5 minutes, Sue Haywood won both last year and this year with times of 26:24 and 26:41 respectively, while I improved from 45:08 to 38:51. I knew at the end of last season that I had a huge gap to cover between the sport and the pro/expert class, and while I didn’t manage to make it all up in one year, I was able to put a dent in it. I did what I could, and now it’s time to start figuring out how to get the rest of the way next season.

It was admittedly a relief to cap off the series, and we celebrated with beer and pizza among friends in the Snowshoe Village that night. In the morning, we got in our party laps in, and I got to ride some silly trails that I’d never ridden before.

Now I’m looking forward to a long stretch of sleeping my own bed, although we may still venture back to Thunder Mountain before it closes for the season. As for racing, we’ll still do the Raven Enduro in October because it’s in State College, but my only real goal for that is to not be in terrible shape this time so that it doesn’t suck to just get through the race. We might also still hit the MASS finale at Glenn Park if we feel like it. Otherwise, I’m just going to start working on getting ready for next season.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Bike Doctor Sheduro

Big reputation, big reputation
Ooh you and me we got big reputations, ah
And you heard about me, ooh
I got some big enemies

Big reputation, big reputation
Ooh you and me would be a big conversation, ah
And I heard about you, ooh
You like the bad ones too

I think the Bike Doctor Sheduro was probably the race I looked forward to the most this season. I spent a lot time thinking about the EWS Continental finale in Burke before nationals highlighted my gross underpreparation, but those thoughts were mostly filled with dread. By the time Frank and I found each other after our race at nationals, one of our first conversations was about our mutual desire to quietly abandon our Burke plans and let go of that sense of dread. On the other hand, I had some initial confusion a few months ago as to why my friend Patrick was posting about a women’s-only enduro on Facebook when I saw “Sheduro” in the event name. However, I soon realized that it was not the word “She” that was the beginning of the portmanteau, but “Shed”, as in the Frederick Water Shed, and frankly, that made it more appealing.

I was apparently bad at being in pictures this weekend. I was actually inside the truck at this point, because the back was just a little bit full.

I had heard from one of the instructors at the TakeAim women’s clinic a couple of years ago who was from Frederick that the place was full of nice rocky downhill trails. As I continued on to race in the WV enduro series, I talked to a lot more people from area and heard similar stories. We met Patrick last year, and though he’s moved from Frederick to Reading, PA this season, he still has plenty of Shed love to go around. Based on its reputation, we’d been wanting to check out The Shed for a while, so when we heard that there would be a race there, we were really excited.

There was the small problem of the race’s proximity to our bike park trip, and while sometimes the solution to #FOMO is to just accept missing things, sometimes you just have to do both things and accept that it will be less than ideal. I admittedly began to doubt that strategy as we began our pre-ride on Saturday, which was my first time pedaling a bike for more than the distance from the car to the lift in 13 days. We rode the first two stages, which were very XC-oriented, and I started to feel sick from the heat and humidity, as well as my body just forgetting how to pedal a bike. I figured that if Stages 3 and 4 were like the first two, riding them blind wouldn’t hurt me too much, because I wasn’t going to do well on them, anyway. We headed over to Stage 5 where we would be picked up by a shuttle afterward.

Stage 5 was awesome, and it was what I had been imagining when I looked forward to the race. It was steep and rocky, and like 5-10% harder than Wildcat and Old Laurel. You know, fun zone. There was also a three-foot drop with no go around, but instead of my usual obsessing, I walked up to the lip, told myself that I had landed safely from much higher/further/faster while jumping at Thunder Mountain earlier in the week, and rode off it perfectly the first time. Unfortunately, the two-second video proof isn’t that great, but to actually land a real drop on a race course was sort of a huge breakthrough for me.

The race itself was kind of meh for me. Stage 1 started with that, “Oh crap, I guess I’m racing now,” feeling as bumbled through the first few muddy turns. Then a kid caught and passed me, and I found my rhythm and started to reel him back, which was pretty fun. Stage 2 was very tight and twisty with lots of muddy rocks, and I kept hitting bad lines and having to get off and run. That was not as fun.

I hadn’t ridden Stage 3, but I was kind of dreading it, because I heard there was either a big climb or two climbs, depending on who was recalling it. This actually worked out because it turned out to be not as bad as I was imagining. What was actually surprising was when the course took a hard left through a crack between two large rocks, and I had to pause to decide if that was really supposed to be the course or not. It was, and it led into a short, techy section to finish the stage, which was actually pretty fun. They ended up throwing out the times for that stage, and based on the amount of pedaling, I was not even a little sad about that.

“Stage 5” or, Creampie as it is officially known, was for the open classes only, so it was originally supposed to be last. The morning of the race, they told the open classes to just head straight to Creampie from the end of Stage 3 and then pick up Stage 4 last. This made the sport and open classes split off in different directions after Stage 3, but the volunteers were good at directing us. I think the change made our course easier, because the race was originally billed as 16 miles and about 2000 feet of climbing, but what I actually ended up with was 12 miles and about 1600 feet of climbing. I certainly wasn’t going to complain about that in my current state of fitness.

My race run of Creampie was okay, but not great. I hit the drop, although I don’t think I had enough speed after the rock roll that came right before it, and I buzzed myself with my rear tire so badly that I still have a red mark on the inside of my thigh two days later. Although I’m sure it looked terrible, it was still a victory in its own right, because not only did I actually do a drop during a race, I did it badly and still rode it out without crashing. All the nightmare scenarios that I imagine will happen when I ride off drops are getting less and less powerful because I'm starting to gather proof that I actually have the skills to correct imperfect landings.

The other part of the run that concerned me was near the middle, where the low line to the left looked easier but was a bad set up for the subsequent steep rocky chute. I took the wrong line in both of my practice runs, and while I got into the right line during my race run, I got nervous and didn’t ride it out. That was my one big disappointment, because I think I could have been like a minute faster if I’d had a chance to successfully hit that line in practice. The final stage was pedally in the middle, but the second half was fun, and I wish had pre-ridden it so that I could have gone faster.

Two Linds*y's enter a podium. Only one leaves with money. Second and fourth had already left.

In the end, I got third out of four in the open women, and had the second-best women's time on Creampie. Lindsey Carpenter still beat me by 1:43 on that stage, but she is basically fast on everything always, so I don’t feel that bad. My other stage times all kind of sucked, and more than half the sport women beat me on those, but they had probably ridden those trails more than I had. When it was all said and done, I just had to be happy that I managed not-last in my own category, and that I had finally landed a drop during a race.

For this first edition of the Sheduro, I think that there were logistical challenges in finding a place big enough for all of the racers to park and/or getting enough shuttles to take everyone back to the parking area, and that was part of the reason that there were more XC trails included instead of the gnarlier downhill runs. As I understand it, more Creampie-style trails would have resulted in either a lot more climbing or the need for a lot more shuttles, but hopefully they can figure out a way to include more of these next year. I’m sure that I’m not the only one willing to suffer more climbing for more gnar.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Bike Park Trip 2018

Every summer, Frank gets a 10-day break between the end of summer classes and the beginning of fall classes. Despite the fact that his break between spring and summer classes is a much longer nearly two-month period, the August break seems to be turning into our traditional vacation time. This tradition started with our wedding taking place immediately after the end of spring classes two years ago and our honeymoon being delayed until August due to a combination of wedding fatigue and W101 prep. It just seems to make sense because May and June are such prime riding time in Rothrock, and the race season is still so young and full of promise that I don't want to be distracted. By August, burnout is usually well on its way in, and it feels kind of refreshing to go ride bikes somewhere novel without the pressure of competition.

This year our travel has mostly revolved around our MTB Parks Pass. We'd pretty much already made our $200 back just from trips to Snowshoe, Blue Mountain, and Mountain Creek, as well as a random little trip up to Greek Peak in New York because, hey, it's free. However, we still thought it would be fun to use our August vacation time to try to check off as many of the Northeast region parks as we could.

Rhaegal the Green Dragon
My resolve that I never wanted to get a downhill bike had slowly been cracking over the season after my teammates Chael and Sam got downhill bikes, and filled my head with stories of laps on laps on laps without fatigue and soft, cushy landings from the biggest of sends. Our trip to Snowshoe over Memorial Day weekend had further convinced me of the merits of a bigger bike that could just plow through things a bit better. So right before the trip, I sold the cute little carbon fiber hardtail that had carried me through the W101 two years ago but had only been ridden a handful of times since, and Frank got me a used 2015 GT Fury off of a Pinkbike classified ad. Per my #GameofQOMs bike-naming theme, I decided to call him Rhaegal the Green Dragon, and I had hoped that I would be able to make him fly.

Windham Lift - Day 1

Even the "Cat 2/3 Only" lines on the Windham UCI downhill course were pretty tough.
Our first stop was Windham, and I spent pretty much the whole time trying to figure out how to get the bike set up semi-comfortably. I finally got the brakes where I wanted them, and after a lot of trial and error, learned that just because you can slam your DH saddle as low as it will go does not mean you should. The geometry made it such that at the lowest seat height, the saddle was actually in my way super badly and was banging on the inside of my knees the whole time. I ended up putting it somewhere similar to where it would be with my dropper post down on my Stumpjumper. The bike still didn't feel as awesome as I had imagined it would, but at least I stopped feeling like I was going to crash and die.

Windham only had five main trails with a few additional options near the bottom. They included a very long, super-dy duper smooth, easy green trail, a slightly harder blue trail, the "longest blue jump line on the East Coast", a "Citizen's Downhill", and the UCI World Cup downhill course from a couple of years ago. The first two were borderline awful on a big bike that I was still dialing in, but I enjoyed the 3.5 mile jump trail well enough, despite being pretty tired by the end. The Citizen's Downhill was a lot of fun, and I finally had a decent run on it the last lap once the bike and I had come to some sort of understanding. The UCI downhill was, um, an experience. An experience of mostly walking.

Killington K-1 Gondola - Day 2

Our second day of riding was in Killington, we took a couple of laps on the short, easy trails off of the Snowshed lift, and then moved on the longer runs from the Ramshead lift. We only did the blues off of Ramshed, and there wasn't anything up there that I was super in love with. We took one trip up the Gondola to the biggest runs, and took the one continuous single black down. It turns out that it was the only trail open from that lift, so we didn't go up again. We actually spent a lot of time going over and over Step It Up/Stinky, which was a fun little run from the Snowshed lift with a good selection of little table tops, a couple of different sizes of drops, and a tiny, adorable boner log. I'm not sure how many times we did it, but I got a little more comfortable and got a little more air each time. 

I was still avoiding the biggest drop and the boner log by the last run, because I still wasn't 100% comfortable with the bike. However, when we stopped so that I could take a video of Frank on the boner log, and some old guys on DH bikes came along after us, totally flopped it, and survived, so I decided to go back and give it a try. As you can see from the video above, it's not a great effort, as my go can also be described as "totally flopped it and survived", but it was a nice step in conquering my fear of all wooden things that pitch upward.

Okemo Small Lift - Day 3

Our third stop was Evolution Bike Park Okemo in Vermont. We hadn't really heard anything about it besides that it was on our MTB Park Pass list. It was a pretty small place, but it has decent room for expansion since they already had two lifts running. The lower one is pretty short and goes to a network of mostly green trails. There was one fun little blue trail with some decent baby jumps that we rode a lot. The place definitely seemed aimed at families and first-timers in its difficulty level.

The upper lift was very long and had one blue trail and one black. The blue trail was long, not technical at all, and required a decent amount of pedaling. I wouldn't have minded trying to go really fast on it on my Stumpy, but it was not fun on my DH bike. We rode the black run twice, the first time stopping a lot to check out the "double black" alternative lines, and then another time through at semi-race pace. The middle video shows me conquering one of the serious double black features, although they did admittedly get somewhat harder as we progressed down the mountain.

Rainy Highland Lift - Day 4

Cat-themed trail names at Highland

 We had planned on hitting Mount Snow for our fourth day, but the trail map didn't have us that excited. We were staying at an AirBnB just across the state line of New Hampshire, and Instagram commenters urged us to go to Highland instead. Highland was not on the MTB Park Pass, but a forecast of thunderstorms at Mount Snow convinced us it was worth actually paying for passes to see what the big fuss was about. 

While not as bad as thunderstorms, we still had slow, drizzy rain the entire day at Highland, which made me afraid of the many, many wooden features there. I'm sure the rain didn't help, but I wasn't feeling all the love that people seem to gush for Highland. We mostly ended up riding Cat's Paw, which admittedly was a fun little blue trail, but since I was avoiding the wood features, it wasn't that interesting. We hoped that the single-black technical trails would be up our alley, right on the edge of, "it's scary but I rode it". They might have been in nice weather, but in the rain they were a little too scary and frustrating.

On a fun side note, after we left Highland, Frank found a craft brewery only four miles away that he wanted to visit. What we didn't know was that Google Map's "four miles" were scary, rutted, semi-flooded back roads not meant to be traversed by a Mazda 5. It was pretty nerve-racking, and at one point Frank got out to measure the depth of the mud puddles before driving through to make sure we wouldn't get stuck. When we finally reached the end of the road, we found out that it was appropriately named "Misery Rd." Luckily, we made it, and the beer was really good, so it was worth it, I guess.

Thunder Mountain Lift - Day 5

2019 Hail Advanced 1

2019 Intrigue Advanced 1
Our final day was at Thunder Mountain where we were treated to another full day of rain. We had planned on going there that day, anyway, but Frank found out that there would be a Giant/Liv demo day there and signed us up. 

I got to ride a Hail Advanced 1, which has a 170mm fork this year, and the newly released Intrigue Advanced 1. You know, the bike that I desperately wanted two years ago when it didn't exist yet. The demo bikes were fine, but the only Hail they had by the time I got to the front of the line was a size too big for me with the stock 800mm bars, which made things pretty awkward. It did remind me of the things I liked about my old Hail and was obviously lighter because it was carbon fiber, but it was also clear why I moved on to something snappier for my full-time race bike. The Intrigue was a fun little bike, but by the time I rode it, I was getting a feel for the awesome East Coast gnar of Thunder Mountain, and I really just wanted to be back on my Stumpy ripping it up with confidence on a bike that was set up to my small-handed tastes. I had been sticking to the DH bike every day up until that point while trying to learn to like it, but since Thunder Mountain was full of the kind of trails that I like to ride, and I wanted to ride them on the bike with which I felt the most comfortabl. So after we returned the demo bikes, the real fun began. 

Thunder Mountain is officially my new favorite bike park. They have three blue trails that offer a decent amount of technical fun, a couple of top-to-bottom technical single-blacks, and an assortment of fun little single-black cut-throughs between the blue trails for variety. On a dry day, their black trails would have been perfectly in our fun zone, lots of oddly-shaped slabs of rocks with roots mixed in, just a little different and more technically difficult than anything in Rothrock. However, there was still a lot that we were intimidated by in the rain, and there are still two double-black trails that we didn't even check out due to the conditions. Now I really want to go back in better weather and be able to ride more.

The irony is that after visiting some much more jump-focused parks in the previous days, it was nestled between beautiful ribbons of East Coast gnar at Thunder Mountain where jumping finally clicked for me. They only have two jump trails, one blue and one double black, and those only run on the lower half of the mountain. We ended up riding The Gronk, which is the blue jump trail, three times. The first was unimpressive as I rode with the same level of caution that I always do on a new jump trail, but I noted that it was well-built and not overly long. There were also good rest periods between sets of jumps to recollect yourself. 

We did another run a couple of laps later, and I started hitting the jumps with more speed, which is something I'm usually afraid to do. I'd tried going into some tabletops with more speed at Highland the day before, and the bike kept whipping up in front of me as I clung on in the back seat, so I was working on preventing that from happening. The second time on The Gronk felt good and was at least close to being my best jump run of the trip so far. 

For our final run, we intended to take one of the black cut-throughs to Harold's Blend, the most technical blue trail, which we'd enjoyed a lot, but we ended up at the hub where the jump trails began instead of Harold's. Despite having said, "Maybe jumping just isn't my thing, and that's okay," like two laps before, I figured it was the universe telling me that we needed to go down The Gronk one more time. Then somewhere between the hub and bottom of the mountain, I learned to jump for real instead of the fake jumping that I'd been engaging in all summer. Something just clicked and I found the correct body position to allow the bike to whip up the lip at full speed and still end up tall and pulling up at the lip. I think I audibly giggled when that happened, and I continued down the mountain catching enough air that it scared me a little every time, but I continued to land safety. It was sort of magical.

On a side note, when we returned, Frank attempted to put softer springs in the DH bike for me, and found that the previously owner had somehow shoved the wrong size spring into the rear. I'm going to guess that's a big contributing factor to why it felt so terrible riding it over any rough stuff, and felt more chattery than my Stumpjumper, despite having significantly more travel. So hopefully next time I ride it, it will feel better, because by the end of Day 4 I was really beginning to wonder why anyone would want to ride a DH bike.

That will be at least a week before I ride it again, though, because we're already packing our bags again to head down to Frederick, MD for the first-ever Sheduro. Having heard so many good things about the Frederick Watershed, I'm very excited to race there, even if my body's still more in vacation mode than race mode.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

MTB Nationals: You're Gonna Make It After All

Who can turn an enduro into a time trial?
Who can take your favorite race, and suddenly make it all seem so vile?
Well it's USAC, and you should know it
With each stage and every stressful transfer you show it

Push the pedals down, no need to waste it
There’s a spot on that lift, why don't you take it?
You're gonna make it after all
You're gonna make it after all

Yeah, I did have to break out the rhyming dictionary on that one.

I don't have a single picture of myself at nationals, so here is what I look like after doing a 1.2 mile steep hike-a-bike the day after the hardest race of my life.

This week’s mountain bike nationals enduro was a rough one, thanks in no small part to the relatively small time slot into which we were expected get 150+ racers through seven stages across 27 miles and four lift rides. This is, of course, the major downside to a national championship event that must fit all of the mountain bike disciplines and their respective age groups into one venue over the course of a few days. There are also upsides to the experience of everyone gathered in one place once a year, but it can make for less-than-ideal individual races. Because enduro mixes in a little bit of all of the other disciplines and requires the largest footprint, fitting it into this format is especially tricky.

Based on our practice day, I knew that I would be pressed to make the 6:30 p.m. time cutoff from my 1:22 p.m. start time. The race was a long, stressful, and exhausting day where I would push myself on the transfers to get a little ahead on time, only to have to wait in line to begin the next stage. In the end, I made good time on the final long pedal transfer, rolled straight into Stage 6 without resting, and jumped  on the lift to get to Stage 7 around 6:15 with a group of other relieved and exhausted racers. Despite having had a rather shitty race, I was choking down happy tears on the short pedal from the top of the Ballhooter lift over to the Western territories because it was almost over, and I was going to make it on time. Of course, at the time the only part of the song I could remember was, “You’re gonna make it after all,” so I just sang it over and over in my head until I started the final stage.

Although, I was proud to have made the time cutoff, that was the only thing that I was proud of about this race. I had struggled enough throughout the day to know that I had not done well in the race, but was not prepared for what the results revealed. The total time for the majority of the female competitors was somewhere in the 40-50 minute range, with the top pros in the upper 30’s. My time: 1:03. What the hell happened?!!

Some things were obvious, like how I took a bad hop off a bridge on Stage 4 and fell head-first into a rocky creek below. I banged up my left elbow and right palm and sprained my left wrist, but luckily I wasn’t seriously hurt. I lost a decent amount of time figuring out how to get right-side up and out of the creek without making things worse. As much as I tried to keep trying after that, I was mostly riding in survival mode, where you end up making more mistakes by being hesitant that you would by riding aggressively.

I hadn’t really been riding well prior to the crash either. When I struggled in practice the day before, I tried to tell myself that having trouble with all of the wet roots, slick rocks, and mud puddles of indeterminate depth was to be expected, and that everyone else was probably having just as much or more trouble than I was. During the race, everyone around me was complaining about Stage 2 both before we started and after we were done. I had been off my bike quite a bit, so I knew I didn’t do well, but I'd hoped it wasn't that bad based on everyone else’s complaints. Apparently, it was pretty bad. I fell on Stage 3 and got my pedal stuck on a root, causing an additional time delay, and by the time the time I crashed on Stage 4, I was already to the point of getting frustrated and starting to give up on bumbling through long, slick, and pedally stage.

So basically, I dumpstered it up real good on Thursday. It sucks, but I’m finally starting to understand the futility of beating myself up after a bad day. I’ve already been up and down many time this season. Before this race I was enjoying a streak of relative success in my races and training, and was beginning to wonder why I lost my shit so bad at Timberline back at the beginning of the year. Now I remember: coz stress, coz slick, coz tired, coz scared. Then I bounced back and started improving again.

The confidence that I had a week ago was not completely unwarranted. I’m just a bit of a one-trick pony right now and this race didn’t provide much opportunity perform my one trick (fast, rocky, steep stuff), but if I can learn one trick, I can learn others. I also know that it’s about time to start caring about my fitness again after giving it a break for a couple of years, so that I get through races more quickly with less fatigue and attack the pedally stages harder, even if I never learn to love them.

Sometime I think I let my history as a stagnant XC racer influence how I feel about my enduro racing now. Like, if I wallowed in seven years of mediocrity then, why do I think I have the ability to be good now? The answer is that it’s a different sport and I’m a different person, and frankly, I enjoy enduro a whole lot more than I ever did with XC. Maybe those seven years were just a practice day to my real mountain bike career where I scoped some lines and got some mistakes out of the way. Maybe they don't count for anything beyond that. Maybe I'll surprise myself how much faster I go this time around.

So I’m not going to let a bad race make me start doubting my ability to do better in the future, and I’m going to keep working to improve the areas where I need work (fitness, berms, slick stuff). Even though journey has not been as quick or smooth as I’d hoped, after one and a half years as a full-time #femdurobro, I’m finally starting believe that I’m gonna to make it after all.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Cooper's Rock Benduro: Don't Confuse Drama With Happiness

“Live your life how you want, but don't confuse drama with happiness.” – Ron Swanson, Parks & Rec

Despite my best efforts to bring extreme meditation to my enduro competitions, halfway through Stage 2 of the Cooper’s Rock Benduro yesterday, the quote above popped into my head. Although I should have been fully focused on keeping up the pedal, pedal, pedal; pump, pump, pump pattern of the stage with maximum intensity, the lack of white knuckle descending allowed my mind to wander back to before the start of Stage 1.

I rolled up just in time to catch Frank about to boost the sketchy jump.

I had taken my sweet time getting to the first stage, knowing there would be a long wait, and I had paused to watch other riders enter the woods before riding on and joining the line at the start. Right before entering the singletrack on the first stage, there was a small ditch where a sketchy little clay lip had been built to allow racers to jump the ditch before entering the woods, or at least try to. A guy had crashed, prompting the entire back half of the line to come watch junior boys attempt to jump the ditch with varying levels of success. One of the women from my class, who was also the mom of one of the junior boys attempting to jump the ditch, walked up to me and said, “Are we jumping it?” I laughed and said, “I don’t think we (motioning between us) are jumping it. Or at least I’m not jumping it.” As I recalled the conversation during racing Stage 2, and I wished that I had come up with Ron Swanson’s quote as my witty reply.

Cooper’s Rock is the most low-drama stop in the West Virginia Enduro Series. The majority of its four stages is made up of straight shots through loose chunk, most of which is not very steep. It was my second race last season, and I remember saying, “There’s nothing scary in this race, except everything in it.” The sketchy ditch jump is the closest thing to a mandatory feature, and that was new this year. Otherwise, there are just many wet rocks and roots that can jump out and mess up your day, but no single thing to worry about.

What surprised me about returning to this race was that it was actually even more pedally than I remembered, but not in the painful, gasping for air way that the pedally parts of Valley Falls are pedally. Yes, there is one really, really painful uphill a couple of minutes into Stage 1 (you know, right after you’ve stood in line for an hour and your legs are dead?), but the rest is a weird sort of pedally that I don’t think I really understood last year. Basically, the course is not very fast or technical, so you have to be extra diligent about being super smooth and sneaking pedal strokes in where you can without banging your pedals on stuff. You have to fight for every bit of speed you get, and you have to fight to keep it. Every time you want to feather the brakes, you really have to consider if it’s worth it.

I guess what I mean is, despite my inability to stay focused for the length of Stage 2, I have a greater appreciation for this race than I did before. I’ve been making lot of improvement lately in the area where I was weakest last season, which is the speed at which I feel safe and confident and my ability to roll through more rough sections without braking, or at least braking less. In some ways I’ve been sacrificing fitness to achieve this, since almost all of my riding is climbing easy and going downhill fast, and both my threshold and anaerobic power are more or less in the toilet right now. I thought that a non-technical, pedally race such at Cooper’s Rock would not be in my favor right at this stage of my progression, but it worked out okay.

I rode pretty decently on all of the stages, and I think my newfound “stability at speed” still helped even though there weren't that many brake-burning sections. A couple of the faster series regulars weren’t there this weekend, and another woman got a double flat within the first minute of the first stage. She was unable to get everything fixed in time to finish the race, so I came out fourth, and got my first WV wide-angle podium/prize money. I was still 2.5 minutes behind third, but it was my best margin to do date.

So despite the undramatic race course this weekend, I’m still pretty happy with how it turned out. If you’re wondering, I pumped through the ditch and went along my merry, uncool way. With my next race being nationals at Snowshoe, I’m sure I’ll have all the drama that I can handle next time around.